7 ways to harness solar energy around your house
Photo courtesy of CertainTeed.
Quick! What does “household solar” mean to you?
If you’re like most people, you are probably picturing rooftop solar panels. It’s true, photovoltaics are the best known and perhaps the most versatile form of solar energy you can have in your home. Yet why stop there, when there are so many additional ways to go solar?
Beyond PV: Innovative Solar Applications for Your Home
Some of the following inventions are high tech, some simple but ingenious. All can help you get even more power from the sun, whether or not you already have PV panels on your roof.
- Solar water heater. Most solar panels generate electricity. However, there’s another kind of rooftop solar that can help reduce one of the biggest utility expenses in your home: your water heating bills. A solar water heater uses either evacuated tubes or solar thermal panels to heat fluid directly. The heat is then transferred to your domestic hot water for use in your shower, laundry or kitchen. Solar water heaters typically cut household water heating bills by 50-80 percent, and are eligible for federal tax credits through 2021.
- Thermal storage tubes. Do you have a greenhouse, sunroom or passive solar home? Ever experience uncomfortable temperature swings in these areas? Thermal storage tubes provide a simple yet elegant solution. These large, water-filled transparent fiberglass cylinders act like solar batteries by absorbing the sun’s heat during the day and releasing it slowly at night. They don’t actually generate power, but by regulating the heat that comes in, they can save you a lot on heating and cooling costs. They serve as beautiful and unusual interior design elements as well.
- Skylights. Lighting accounts for 12 percent of the average American home’s electricity use. If you find yourself switching the lights on during the day, consider installing skylights in those poorly lit areas. Daylight is, after all, free! Studies show it’s healthier, too. Conventional skylights are a good option if you have the space. If you install ones that can open, they can help to cool your home on a hot summer day by releasing heat as it rises. However, not all areas that need lighting will accommodate a large skylight. Tubular skylights are an excellent solution for these areas. These inexpensive units effectively funnel daylight into any room. Plus, they are easy to install.
- Outdoor lighting. Another way to save on lighting costs is to install solar yard and garden lights. These each have a tiny solar panel, LED lamp and battery storage, and can be set to automatically turn on when dusk falls. Not only do they improve your outdoor nighttime safety, they can be quite beautiful, too. In addition, if you enjoy decorative lighting, you will be glad to know that solar lighting is also available as string lighting, tube lighting, fairy lights and even Christmas lights.
- Solar chargers for electronics. If you don’t already have solar panels on your roof, you can still power your cellphone and other devices with the sun. Solar chargers are the way to go. Most units are quite inexpensive, and consist of small, portable solar panels with or without supplemental battery storage. A solar charger will reduce your carbon footprint at home, and keep you fully powered when you’re on the go.
- Solar powered oven. Another nifty solar device you can use at home or away is the solar oven. Solar cookers typically consist of an insulated cooking chamber and reflectors that funnel the sun’s heat into it. Although they are low tech, they are surprisingly effective when the sun is shining: some models can attain temperatures of 350 degrees Fahrenheit or more. There are many models of solar ovens commercially available, or you can try your hand at making one.
- Solar attic fans. An attic fan can remove built-up heat and moisture from your attic and save energy. A solar attic fan is powered by its own small solar panel. It will come on automatically exactly when it’s needed — when the sun is shining. Solar attic fans are inexpensive and easy to install with no wiring required.
There you have it — seven ways to go solar, above and beyond rooftop PV. However, this list is by no means comprehensive. What other ways can you think of to harness the power of the sun in or around your home?
Ryan McNeill is the president of Renewable Energy Corporation, a Maryland based solar company that specializes in the installation of solar panels, solar water heaters, and solar attic fans.